Hump Day: Angels, trolls and “playing nice” in social media

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

I’m always more than a bit amazed at the lack of finesse and thoughtfulness that people have when posting in social media. Rude. Crude. Lewd. Ignorant.

You name it, I’ve seen it. Oh, and I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t say that I’ve had a few social media “fender benders” myself. Say you’re sorry. Mean it. Move on. Don’t do it again. It’s like anything else in life. Don’t try to defend the indefensible. No one cares. If you mess up, admit it and move on. Just shut ‘yer yap and give it up.

As I’ve said many times before, the courtrooms of the nation would be empty if people would just learn to say three little words: “I am sorry.” Now, was that difficult? Of course not.

I run a Facebook group for fans of Acadian poutine râpée. The group has more than 1,000 members and is a beehive of advice. People have met long-lost relatives, neighbours and friends. There are intergenerational discussions about Acadian food. People write in English. People write in French. For the most part, everyone is happy.

But once in a while, someone drops by just to cause trouble and stir the pot — and we’re not talking about a pot of poutines! Now, I’m not one of these moderators who puts up with a lot. My patience with these troublemakers is rail thin since some negative personal experiences with online trolls last year. “Ignore them and they’ll go away,” I thought at the time. A great theory, but not realistic — at least not in my experience.

One lady in the group decided to appoint herself Chief Justice of Poutine Râpée and tear apart every post that was even remotely off topic. If someone asked a question about apple pie, for example, she’d be down their throats with a rusty razor blade slicing through their jugular. I mean, wow, she reminded me of a mean guard in one of those ultra-violent prison movies.

I deleted a few of her nasty comments only to find that she didn’t get the hint. Eventually, she attacked me for posting something she didn’t like. Did I mention that I started the group and manage it? Built it to more than 1,000 members? I think I can be forgiven if I post something somewhat off topic to the subject matter of the group. As far as that group goes, “L’état, c’est moi,” as King Louis XIV of France reportedly once said. Translation: “I’m the boss!”

Well, needless to say, that was the end of that. Good-bye! She can take her bad mood and move on elsewhere. I’m just not interested. And, like I’ve said before, she may have freedom of speech, but I have freedom to react.

I just don’t get the ongoing vitriol spewed online. The never-ending nasty posts. What’s the use? I’ve received my fair share of horrific e-mails. One guy told me to go hang myself. (And he wasn’t kidding.) Another told me he hoped someone would shoot me “in my bald head.” Of course, they all walk that thin line between death threats and opinion. It’s illegal to say you’re going to kill me. It’s not illegal to tell me you hope someone else does it.

Is it upsetting? Well, of course! Who wants e-mails like that? It would ruin even the most optimistic person’s day. Luckily, the perpetrators weren’t bright enough to cover their tracks that well. A Google search here. A Google search there. A telephone call here. A telephone call there. It’s not difficult to find out where people live and work if you really want to find out. But other than knowing, there’s not much you can do about it other than hope they find another target for their mentally ill viciousness and move on.

But focusing on the negative isn’t fair to online activities. It’s just not. So much good can come from it that it far outweighs the negative — at least in my opinion. For every nutjob troll out there, there are a hundred angels — people willing to help, give you the shirts off their backs, give you business, offer compassion and support and friendship. It’s just too darn bad that the one-per-cent troll factor is so bad that it often overwhelms the 99-per-cent angel factor.

But I have to say the one thing that drives me completely insane in all of this are the bullies who try to turn things around by calling their victims bullies. I’ve seen it happen so often, it’s a real pattern.

In fact, according to bullyonline.org, “Bullies are people who have not learned the lesson of consequences, i.e. that if they behave well there are good consequences (reward), but if they behave badly there are bad consequences (restriction, sanction, punishment, etc.). Since childhood, bullies have learnt that they can avoid the unpleasant consequences of bad behaviour through the instinctive response of denial, blame, and feigning victimhood.”

Is there anything more maddening that these bullies playing the victim card? It’s often so preposterous that you can’t help but laugh. I just shake my pretty little bald and bullet-free head.

I wonder what kind of comments columnists who write about national politics get? Globe and Mail national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson was in Moncton a few weeks ago. He must have received a few doozies over his career. Apparently, my writing about cats, grocery store experiences and dead relatives irks those in the Land of Trolls.

All I know is one thing. Life is good. Business is good. I’m trying my best. You’re trying your best. That’s all we can ask of each other. Let’s play nice, shall we?

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